Importers expect a normal crop of blueberries from Chile this season. Photo courtesy Sunny Valley International Inc.

After an “uber-early” start in 2016, Chilean blueberry shipments should be back on schedule this year, with peak season running from mid-December through February.

Chile is the largest producer of blueberries in the Southern Hemisphere, exporting a total of 103,000 tons in 2016-17, said Karen Brux, managing director of the San Carlos, Calif.-based Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.

Of that total, 67,707 tons — or 65.7% — was exported to North America, the largest global market for Chilean blueberries, she said.

This year’s volume of fresh exports is expected to reach 101,700 tons, she said.

A couple of things will be different for this season’s Chilean blueberry crop compared to last year’s, said Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Naturipe Farms LLC, Salinas, Calif.

“Last year, the crop came in earlier,” he said, with a “distinct peak of production at the end of December.”

“This year, the crop looks to be developing at more of a historically normal production curve,” he said.

“The plants received abundant chill hours, and the cooler winter and spring allowed for the later and more normal development of the process of coming out of dormancy,” he said.


More organic

Also, Chile is expected to have more organic blueberries this year.

“That’s good news for consumers and good news for retailers who are looking to offer more organic blueberries to their customers,” Flores said.

He attributed the uptick in organic fruit to increased investment in production in the northern growing areas of Chile as well as growth in volume of organic blueberries from the south.

Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros. Inc. expects to start importing blueberries from an early grower a week or two before Thanksgiving, said John Pandol, director of special projects.

“We’re expecting normal timing and not the uber-early timing of last year,” he said.

Pandol anticipates plenty of volume this year, as growers introduce new varieties after a number of trials and phase out others that were not working.

Chilean growers produce a number of proprietary varieties as well as open varieties, he said.

Air arrivals of Chilean blueberries were expected to start in mid- to late October, said Robert Von Rohr, director of customer relations for Sunny Valley International Inc., Glassboro, N.J.

Shipments on ocean vessels should begin in late November, he said.

Early arrivals are shipped by air because there’s not enough fruit to fill the large shipping containers used by ocean-going vessels, he said.

The number of early arrivals from Chile has increased in recent years, said Jason Fung, director of category development for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia.

“There is a real shift in the timing of the South American blueberry crop,” he said, with noteworthy volumes starting in November and ramping up in December.

“There are some neat (promotional) opportunities out there now,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said conditions seemed to be on track for a good season when he visited Chile in September, with no extreme weather — like freezes or frosts — reported.

Mike Bowe, president and owner of Dave’s Specialty Imports, Coral Springs, Fla., saw similar conditions when he was in Chile in August.

“Everything looked good at that point,” he said.

“They look to have good quality.”